Two German cyclists on rusty bicycles ride all the way from Ooty to Bangalore and soak in the Indianness of things

The plan was crazy. My friend and I wanted to cycle from Ooty to Bangalore. When we told our parents back home in Germany and our Indian friends of our idea, the response was the same: “You are crazy”. Nevertheless, we went ahead and bought two bikes that were so dusty and rusty that I was really worried whether they would survive the long journey up to Bangalore. We did not purchase the high-tech shiny models available these days. We wanted the risk, the challenge and above all we wanted to be as close to the people as possible.

That is also why we did not want to rush past the real India in one of those big tourist buses. India’s culture is simply too stunning and unique to do that. Watching it trough a glass window, it’s just not the same.

When we got on to our bikes, we had not the slightest idea what awaited us. It was fear mingled with uncertainty and excitement. We carried neither a smart phone nor a map, and we could speak neither Hindi nor Tamil or any other Indian language. We communicated with our hands and feet. We stopped here and there, entranced by the wonderful smell of chai, and, as we had no gears, we pushed our bikes when the slope was too steep.

We learnt about the Indian way of negotiating the roads. You neither keep left nor right and you can ride on the pavements. Exhaust fumes pollute the air, garbage adorns the side of the road, the traffic is traumatic and traffic lights play no significant role. The horn is a constant companion. Still, India has the most beautiful landscapes, the most interesting street life and the most enchanting sunsets.

We set off from Ooty at nine in the morning, and cycled for five or six hours before we reached Gudalur. We spent the night there and set off early next morning. We cycled through the Mudumalai National Park. Half way through we ran out of water and food. There were more than 20 miles to go and we were at the end of our wits. There were no shops, nothing, obviously, and we couldn’t stop. But salvation came in the form of a huge truck. We must have looked really exhausted as the driver threw down a bottle of water and some oranges for us. We reached Gundlupet completely exhausted but happy.

The road show!The next day started on a frustrating note. My friend’s bike had two flat tires. ‘No problem’, we thought, we will surely find a cycle shop in this city. We looked around for an hour in vain. Ultimately, we borrowed a bicycle pump from a vegetable seller. He asked us about our destination and when we told him he got really excited. He began calling out to the people around, “Listen everybody, listen up, these two are going to Bangalore on these bicycles! Can you believe it, Bangalore.” The two of us must have been the biggest spectacle - two Europeans travelling on dusty, old cycles, their backpacks fixed on the tiny rack. People all along the way wanted to take pictures with us, they applauded as we pedalled past and sometimes invited us to eat and drink at their houses. We were showered with hospitality, concern and fantastic Indian food. We ate a lot of rice, with sambar and curd and pickles!

That same evening we reached gorgeous Mysore, where we decided to stay for a couple of days to take some rest and visit the Mysore Palace. A couple of days later we took the Bangalore-Mysore Road and hoped to reach Bangalore as soon as possible, but as always everything turned out different than previously planned. My friend got sick; we could not go on. Surrounded by nothing but highway and some fast food restaurants, we spent three days in a Highway Lodge. When we were finally able to go on, we made the last sprint and reached Bangalore the same evening. Proud as a peacock, we unsaddled our backpacks.

We had taken five days to cover 300 kilometers on our rundown, gearless Hercules bicycles. We will always remember the generosity and warmth we received on the way. The images will always remain with us.

So, what are you waiting for, hit the roads and cycle away!